Nobel Prize and Other Honors

Bruce BeutlerWe are pleased that Bruce Beutler, who has been an NIGMS grantee since 2000, is a recipient of this year’s Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine Exit icon. He was cited for “discoveries concerning the activation of innate immunity.” We congratulate him on this great honor.

Beutler has been at the Scripps Research Institute since 2000 but is moving back to the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, which is where he worked when he discovered the receptor for endotoxin in 1998.

While we did not support him at that time, we began funding him shortly thereafter to further explore this seminal discovery. Our first grant to him was titled “TLR4 as an LPS Sensor and Susceptibility Locus,” and our second was titled “Mutagenic Analysis of LPS Responses.” The latter grant, which is still active, was awarded as an R01 in 2003 and converted to an R37 (MERIT Award) in 2008.

With this support, Beutler pioneered the use of a novel mutagenesis process in model systems to characterize several key intermediates in the Toll-like receptor signaling pathway of the innate immune response. These and other advances have formed a molecular framework for a deeper understanding of innate immunity, which is essential for normal host defense but which can also go awry, causing chronic inflammatory diseases and sepsis.

Today’s Nobel news comes on the heels of last week’s announcement that the National Medal of Science Exit icon will go to two of our grantees, Jackie Barton of Caltech and Peter Stang of the University of Utah.

And at the other end of the career spectrum, NIGMS grantee Sara Sawyer of the University of Texas at Austin is among the 20 NIH-funded scientists who were just selected for the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. This award is the nation’s highest honor for scientists at the beginning of their professional careers.

We congratulate these grantees on their notable recognitions.

Lasker Award Highlights Protein Folding Discoveries

Crystal structure of the asymmetric GroEL-GroES-(ADP)7 chaperonin complex (PDB ID: 1aon).The Lasker Awards recognize major contributions to understanding and treating, curing or preventing disease. The 2011 prizes were announced yesterday, and we’re proud that two former NIGMS grantees, Franz-Ulrich Hartl of the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry and Arthur L. Horwich of the Yale School of Medicine, are being honored with the Basic Medical Research Award Exit icon.

Hartl and Horwich are cited for their discoveries about the cell’s protein-folding machinery, particularly the identification of chaperonin, which shifted the paradigm of how proteins fold. The field of protein folding is a great example of the importance of the basic research that NIGMS funds and how it lays the foundation for medical advances—in this case, shedding light on diseases linked to misfolding or aggregation, such as Alzheimer’s and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

We’re also delighted that the NIH Clinical Center was selected to receive the Lasker-Bloomberg Public Service Award Exit icon.

We congratulate all of the recipients on these well-deserved honors.

Revised Financial Conflicts of Interest Regulations

The revised regulations Exit icon on extramural investigators’ financial conflicts of interest have been published in the Federal Register. The final rule is based on input NIH received from the community.

The revised regulations, as outlined by NIH’s Sally Rockey, now:

  • Require investigators to disclose to their institutions all of their significant financial interests related to their institutional responsibilities as opposed to only those that they see as related to Public Health Service (PHS)-supported research.
  • Lower the monetary threshold for disclosure of significant financial interests, from $10,000 to $5,000.
  • Require institutions to report to the PHS awarding component more comprehensively on identified financial conflicts of interest and how they are being managed.
  • Require institutions to make certain information concerning identified financial conflicts of interest held by senior/key personnel accessible to the public.
  • Require investigators to be trained on the regulations and their institution’s financial conflict of interest policy at designated times.

NIH is developing training materials, which will be posted on its Financial Conflict of Interest Web site. For more details, visit the “quick links.”

Forging Ahead

Under Jeremy Berg’s leadership, NIGMS has thrived and continued to support outstanding, cutting-edge research. I hope to maintain this momentum while serving as acting NIGMS director.

Many of you know me from the Division of Genetics and Developmental Biology, the part of NIGMS I’ve directed since 1988. Others know me from the NIH Director’s Pioneer and New Innovator Award programs, which I’ve led for a number of years, or from my role in chairing NIGMS’ strategic planning processes. Some may even recall when I previously served as acting NIGMS director (from May 2002, when Marvin Cassman left, to November 2003, when Jeremy arrived).

In this time of transition, we are managing a challenging budget situation and also pursuing several major activities. One is implementing action items from the training strategic plan. I am excited to see this effort come to fruition, as it will have a significant impact on both students in our training programs and those supported by regular research grants.

In addition, we are looking forward to marking the Institute’s 50th anniversary in 2012. Planning is already under way for activities at scientific meetings and on the NIH campus. We will post more details here in the coming months.

And of course we eagerly anticipate the selection of a new NIGMS director. The search committee is a terrific group of people who know the Institute well. I have a lot of confidence that they will find us a director who will continue NIGMS’ strong tradition of excellent leadership.

Part of Jeremy’s legacy at NIGMS is the Feedback Loop. Keeping open lines of communication has always been really important to us, and I welcome your input at any time.


Today is my last day as Director of NIGMS. It is hard to believe that almost 8 years have passed since I was first offered this tremendous opportunity to serve the scientific community. It has been a privilege to work with the outstanding staff members at NIGMS and NIH, as well as with so many of you across the country.

As I write my final post, I find myself recalling a statement I heard from then-NIH Director Elias Zerhouni during my first few years here: It is very difficult to translate that which you do not understand. He made this comment in the context of discussions about the balance between basic and applied research, which certainly has applicability in this setting and is relevant in a broader context as well. In some ways, it has also been my mantra for the NIGMS Feedback Loop.

Early in my time at NIH, I was struck by how often even relatively well-informed members of the scientific community did not understand the underlying bases for NIH policies and trends. Information voids were often filled with rumors that were sometimes very far removed from reality. The desire to provide useful information to the scientific community motivated me and others at NIGMS to start the Feedback Loop, first as an electronic newsletter and, for the past 2 years, as a blog. Our goal was–and is–to provide information and data that members of the scientific community can use to take maximal advantage of the opportunities provided across NIH and to understand the rationales behind long-standing and more recent NIH policies and initiatives.

I chose the name Feedback Loop with the hope that this venue would provide more than just a vehicle for pushing out information. I wanted it to promote two-way communication, with members of the scientific community feeling comfortable sharing their thoughts about the material presented or about other issues of interest to them. In biology, feedback loops serve as important regulatory mechanisms that allow systems to adjust to changes in their environments. I hoped that NIGMS’ “feedback loop” would serve a similar role.

I am pleased with our progress toward this goal, but there is considerable room for further evolution. The emergence and success of similar blogs such as Rock Talk are encouraging signs. I know that NIGMS Acting Director Judith Greenberg shares my enthusiasm for communication with the community, and I hope that the new NIGMS Director will too. I encourage you to continue to play your part, participate in the discussions and engage in the sort of dialogue that will best serve the scientific community.

I plan to continue communicating with many of you in my new position as a member of the extramural scientific community. For the time being, you can reach me at

Acting Director Named

Photo of Dr. Judith GreenbergAs I enter my final few weeks at NIGMS, I’m engaged in a lot of transition planning. One major aspect is the designation of an acting director, and I’m happy to tell you that Judith Greenberg has agreed to serve in this capacity after my departure early next month. She was acting director in 2002 and 2003, after Marvin Cassman left and before I arrived, and I know that she will once again do a fantastic job.

For more about Judith, see the news release we just issued.


NIGMS Glue Grant Assessment Report

Last November, I announced that NIGMS was conducting an assessment of its Large-Scale Collaborative Project Awards (glue grant) program and solicited your input.

We have now posted the report of this assessment, which is based on an analysis of input from six different sources, including comments we received from the scientific community.

The assessment’s conclusion is that the glue grant program has had mixed results. All of the projects accomplished some of their goals, and some of the projects had a substantial impact in their fields. However, the assessment also found that the program as a whole had not achieved outcomes commensurate with the scope of the awards and the overall investment in them.

The panel members felt that “the successes and challenges of the Glue Grant Awards Program provide a useful guide for the development of future programs.” While they recommended discontinuing the program as it currently exists, they did not recommend abandoning all support for collaborative research, even in the face of tighter budgets. Rather, they suggested a number of ways to improve support for larger-scale projects and indicated that these projects cannot be accomplished with R01 grant support alone.

Last week, I presented the outcomes of the assessment to our Advisory Council, which embraced the recommendations of the assessment panel and encouraged NIGMS to develop alternative mechanisms to support the varied accomplishments that were supported through the glue grant program. We will take the report and Council’s advice into consideration as we develop future plans for funding collaborative research.

Feedback Loop Feedback: Tell Us What You Want

The Feedback Loop blog, with its 165 posts and 418 comments, has become an important tool for communicating with you.

As the blog enters its third year, we will continue to use it to share news of NIGMS funding opportunities, meetings and activities, job openings and grant-related changes. But, as with any blog, we really want to generate posts that spark an open dialogue.

Tell us what posts you want to read by e-mailing me, adding a comment here or using the “Suggest a Post” option near the top of the site. Is there a policy or process we can demystify, a trend we can explain or an area of funding we should highlight? You can propose any topic that might interest our broader NIGMS grantee and applicant audience. While you’re at it, you can also tell us what you don’t want to read about!

Council Tribute to Director Berg

At today’s National Advisory General Medical Sciences Council meeting, member Howard Garrison offered the following statement to Jeremy Berg on behalf of the entire Council:

“In appreciation of your 7 years of leadership at NIGMS, the members of the Council express their profound gratitude to you for your distinguished service to science and the nation. We recognize your outstanding work in the pursuit of excellence in research and education, mentoring and advocacy for basic research. Your willingness to deal directly with challenging issues has earned you our respect and admiration. It has been a pleasure and an honor to work with you, and we will miss you. We wish you continued success in your new endeavors.”

Send Input on Single-Cell Analysis

Cool Video: Leading Cells with LightNIH is seeking broad input from the scientific community on challenges and opportunities in single-cell analysis, a topic of great interest and relevance to many NIGMS grantees and applicants. Please help NIH shape its future programs in this emerging research area by sending in your opinions. The request for information (RFI) asks for responses on topics including:

  • Current conceptual, technical and/or methodological challenges in the field;
  • Major biomedical research questions that can be addressed by single-cell analysis; and
  • The highest priority tools and resources needed to move forward.

We hope you’ll take the time to weigh in with your opinions and specific examples between now and the March 18 response deadline.

Let me know if you would like to learn more about trans-NIH activities in this area, as I’m a member of the group that issued this RFI—the Single Cell Analysis Working Group of the NIH Common Fund (formerly known as the NIH Roadmap), which provides strategic planning, coordination and support for programs that cut across NIH institutes and centers.